Category Archives: 1981

Movies released in 1981.

Review: On Golden Pond

Director: Mark Rydell
Year: 1981
Score: 7/10

Both Fonda and Hepburn died during filming, and their corpses were used in scenes that still needed to be shot. Pretty disrespectful, I thought.

Both Fonda and Hepburn died during filming, and their corpses were used in scenes that still needed to be shot. Pretty disrespectful, I thought.

Tender if saccharine drama about an elderly man, his troubled relationship with his daughter, and the time he spends fishing on Golden Pond (a lake) with her boyfriend’s teenage son.

Henry Fonda won an Oscar for his solid lead performance, and died soon thereafter. Katharine Hepburn also won one – her fourth Best Actress Oscar, a record unlikely to ever be equalled – for playing his wife, though reportedly it was widely regarded as a sentimental win rather than necessarily being deserved for this particular performance. In my view both are good enough to deserve their wins, though Hepburn is really in more of a supporting role than a lead one. The relationship between their characters is the film’s strongest and most moving facet.

On the other hand, the relationship between Fonda’s character and his daughter – played with mixed results by his real-life daughter Jane – doesn’t quite click, though from a narrative perspective it’s supposed to be the main event. Dabney Coleman is amusing in a supporting role. The stuff with the loons is a tad heavy-handed, contributing to the sense of over-sentimentality.

Still probably worth watching for the performances, the warm humour, and the bits that succeed on an emotional level, of which there are quite a few. After all, there really aren’t enough good movies about old age.

Review: The Evil Dead

Director: Sam Raimi
Year: 1981
Score: 7.5/10

So... tree rape. The jokes write themselves.

So… tree rape. The jokes write themselves.

The film that kicked off the Evil Dead saga is rough around the edges but full of memorable moments and gruesome visuals. The basic premise is now so familiar but would presumably have seemed original at the time. Sam Raimi uses lots of imaginative camera angles and shots, including of course the oft-imitated ‘shaky cam’ representing the fast-moving demonic point of view. Bruce Campbell is perfectly cast as Ash and doesn’t take long to make the role his own, creating one of the horror genre’s most iconic (and amusing) characters. The balance of horror and comedy is a little off in this one; Raimi was still learning his craft at this point, and didn’t get that particular balance right until the sequel six years later. Notably, one of the Coen brothers (Joel, to be precise) served as an assistant editor and learned a thing or two. If you think you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen this, well, you’re not really a horror fan, are you?

Review: Quest for Fire

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Year: 1981
Score: 5.5/10

As the title suggests, this movie dramatises an early human tribe’s struggle to obtain and master fire 80,000 years ago. Most of the characters are cavemen, so they communicate with grunts and groans and gibberish. It’s certainly an original premise for a movie, but in the end I admired what it was attempting to do more than I actually enjoyed it; to be honest, it was quite a slog to get through, with several long lulls. There’s also a slight problem that will only affect viewers (such as myself) who are fans of the TV series Bob’s Burgers: the main caveman character regularly and repeatedly makes a sound that approximates Tina Belcher’s distinctive ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’ cries of distress. Still, it’s noteworthy for its uniqueness and the fact that it features Ron Perlman’s film debut (as a caveman, of course).

Review: Chariots of Fire

Director: Hugh Hudson
Year: 1981
Score: 6.5/10

Best Picture winner recounting the real-life story of British athletes at the 1924 Olympics. There are some powerful moments, the performances are fine, and it’s a handsome production, but ultimately it didn’t really move me and I wasn’t as invested in the success of the athletes as I should have been. Also, the first half hour felt somewhat muddled and the second half dragged (though it also contained some of the best parts). The central rivalry between Liddell and Abrahams, with their contrasting motivations for running, is handled well. Great to see (well, hear) Vangelis’ iconic theme used in its original context.

Review: Dragonslayer

Director: Matthew Robbins
Year: 1981
Score: 6/10

Much of this fantasy is mediocre at best, but somehow by the end I was reasonably engaged. Considering when this was made, the special effects are quite impressive (though it’s amusing how far through they manage to get before showing us the dragon in its entirety). One key fault: the actions of the protagonist are often hard to comprehend. I particularly enjoyed (read: found unintentionally laughable) the scene in which one of only two female characters in the whole movie (not counting a nameless virgin devoured by the dragon at the start) cheesily accuses the protagonist of being in love with the other female character, a princess, and he cheesily responds with “I am in love… but not with the princess”.

Review: Blow Out

Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1981
Score: 5.5/10

Brian De Palma movie with a pretty outlandish premise: John Travolta is a sound effect artist working on low-budget horror movies who witnesses – and captures an audio recording of – the assassination of a would-be presidential candidate, and must then thwart a conspiracy by using his technical skills. It all gets rather silly. This would serve as a weird counterpoint to Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Review: Mad Max 2

Director: George Miller
Year: 1981
Score: 8/10

The best of the series, in my view (and, from what I understand, many others would agree). It quickly dispenses with exposition and gets straight into the conflict between The Humungus’ gang and the settlers protecting their tank of oil. We seem more properly into post-apocalyptic territory now, with fewer trappings of the pre-apocalyptic world; aptly, our protagonist has more fully embraced his ‘madness’ and is now the archetypal road warrior, survivalism replacing the residues of civilisation he had left by the end of the first movie. The action scenes are a step up and dominate most of the proceedings; this is a clear strength. The focused nature of the story is also helpful. There’s not much depth here, but it’s got buckets of style and entertainment value, and it paints a vivid picture of a society past the point of decay. Once again, Brian May provides an excellent score.